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Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing
Written by Lee Server   

Book Review  by James Colt Harrison

Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing is a penetrating new book that provides a candid look at the fifties movie icon. The book is stripped of any pretense about the star and is an honest portrayal of one of the most beautiful women in the world, warts and all. Gardner, who stared in The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Barefoot Contessa with Humphrey Bogart, was a hot little barefoot country gal from a tobacco plantation down in Grabtown, North Carolina. Her roots couldn't have been more humble.


Ava Gardner © Photoplay Magazine
A talent agent who saw Gardner's photo in a photographer's shop in New York accidentally discovered her. It was merely fate that she had made her first trip to New York with her sister Bappie and did some experimental photos as a lark. After making a quick screen test in New York in 1941, Gardner was shipped out to Hollywood to be looked over by studio mogul Louis B. Mayer. Her southern accent was so thick nobody could understand a word she said. After seeing her screen test, Mayer said, "She can't act. She can't talk. She's terrific!" MGM signed her to a long-term contract and then didn't' know what to do with her. She languished around the studio for five years doing bit parts before being given a decent role.  

That part was in The Killers and wasn't even made at MGM. It was a Universal Picture on loan-out and sent Gardner and co-star Burt Lancaster on the road to stardom. It was the first time Gardner could show off her dark and steamy sexual side. She and the movie were a sensation. MGM had a new star and they hadn't done anything to create her!  


Gardner was a reluctant movie star and never seemed to care about being a film icon. She often defied Louis B. Mayer, was rebellious, and did what she damned well pleased. It was that independent quality that made her so different from the other cowering contract stars under MGM's iron fist.  

Her wild nature attracted men, the first of whom was MGM's number one star at the moment, Mickey Rooney. They were both impetuous kids; he was 21 and she was 19. ("I was a fourteen year-old boy for thirty years," he once quipped). They ran off and got married. Mayer almost had an attack of apoplexy at the thought of his two hottest commodities ruining their lives with marriage. He needn't have worried. It didn't last.  

In his book Server describes that other men were interested in Ava. She was so beautiful that when she walked across the MGM lot, all the construction men and the crew would stop in their tracks with their mouths open. Howard Hughes, a most powerful man in Hollywood, took an interest in her and pursued her throughout her life. She wouldn't give him the time of day, and that's what intrigued him. Despite offers of jewels, furs and film contracts as well as marriage, Ava just strung him along. Hughes had a reputation of stashing beautiful starlets away in secret rendezvous.

Gardner was more intrigued by bandleader Artie Shaw. He scooped her up, married her and tried to remake her. It didn't work. Off she went. Ava loved men, but she didn't want to be dominated by them.  

By the end of the decade she was beginning to prove herself a good actress. She had her share of big hits. Films such as One Touch of Venus in 1948 showcased her €˜other-worldly' qualities and Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) was a landmark film for cinematography that got good reviews for Gardner.  

MGM re-made the staple musical Show Boat in 1951 with Gardner playing a mulatto beauty. She went to Africa for 20th Century Fox's version of Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro with Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward and German star Hildegard Knef. A big hit for her in 1954 was The Barefoot Contessa, with Humphrey Bogart, for which she is probably best remembered.  

Along the way to super stardom, she met the love of her life-Frank Sinatra. Author Lee Server details every aspect of their tempestuous love affair. They lived their lives in the headlines, battled profusely, and made love with intensity.  

Gardner was a devil and always having fun. When in Africa making Mogambo with Clark Gable, she took young co-star Grace Kelly to meet some of the 7-foot Watusis who were appearing in the film. Gardner suggested they lift a native's loincloth to see what was underneath. There in full view was a magnificently large member of gigantic proportions. Grace giggled and blushed and Gardner said, "Frank's is bigger."  


— Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing  

— St. Martin's Press, New York, April 18, 2006

— ISBN: 0-312-31209-1

— Hardcover (available in softcover)

— 551 pages

— $29.95




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